Everything You Thought You Knew About Western Civilization Is Wrong: A Review of Michael Hudson’s New Book, And Forgive Them Their Debts

By John Siman

To say that Michael Hudson’s new book And Forgive Them Their Debts: Lending, Foreclosure, and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year (ISLET 2018) is profound is an understatement on the order of saying that the Mariana Trench is deep. To grasp his central argument is so alien to our modern way of thinking about civilization and barbarism that Hudson quite matter-of-factly agreed with me that the book is, to the extent that it will be understood, “earth-shattering” in both intent and effect. Over the past three decades, Hudson gleaned (under the auspices of Harvard’s Peabody Museum) and then synthesized the scholarship of American and British and French and German and Soviet assyriologists (spelled with a lower-case a to denote collectively all who study the various civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia, which include Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, Ebla, Babylonia, et al., as well as Assyria with a capital A). Hudson demonstrates that we, twenty-first century globalists, have been morally blinded by a dark legacy of some twenty-eight centuries of decontextualized history. This has left us, for all practical purposes, utterly ignorant of the corrective civilizational model that is needed to save ourselves from tottering into bleak neo-feudal barbarism.

This corrective model actually existed and flourished in the economic functioning of Mesopotamian societies during the third and second millennia B.C. It can be termed Clean Slate amnesty, a term Hudson uses to embrace the essential function of what was called amargi andníg-si-sáin Sumerian, andurārumand mīšarumin Akkadian (the language of Babylonia), šudūtu andkirenzi in Hurrian, para tarnumarin Hittite, and deror(דְּרוֹר) in Hebrew: It is the necessary and periodic erasure of the debts of small farmers — necessary because such farmers are, in any society in which interest on loans is calculated, inevitably subject to being impoverished, then stripped of their property, and finally reduced to servitude (including the sexual servitude of daughters and wives) by their creditors, creditors. The latter inevitably seek to effect the terminal polarization of society into an oligarchy of predatory creditors cannibalizing a sinking underclass mired in irreversible debt peonage. Hudson writes: “That is what creditors really wanted: Not merely the interest as such, but the collateral — whatever economic assets debtors possessed, from their labor to their property, ending up with their lives” (p. 50).

And such polarization is, by Hudson’s definition, barbarism. For what is the most basic condition of civilization, Hudson asks, other than societal organization that effects lasting “balance” by keeping “everybody above the break-even level”?

“Mesopotamian societies were not interested in equality,” he told me, “but they were civilized. And they possessed the financial sophistication to understand that, since interest on loans increases exponentially, while economic growth at best follows an S-curve. This means that debtors will, if not protected by a central authority, end up becoming permanent bondservants to their creditors. So Mesopotamian kings regularly rescued debtors who were getting crushed by their debts. They knew that they needed to do this. Again and again, century after century, they proclaimed Clean Slate Amnesties.”

Hudson also writes: “By liberating distressed individuals who had fallen into debt bondage, and returning to cultivators the lands they had forfeited for debt or sold under economic duress, these royal acts maintained a free peasantry willing to fight for its land and work on public building projects and canals…. By clearing away the buildup of personal debts, rulers saved society from the social chaos that would have resulted from personal insolvency, debt bondage, and military defection” (p. 3).

Marx and Engels never made such an argument (nor did Adam Smith for that matter). Hudson points out that they knew nothing of these ancient Mesopotamian societies. No one did back then. Almost all of the various kinds of assyriologists completed their archaeological excavations and philological analyses during the twentieth century. In other words, this book could not have been written until someone digested the relevant parts of the vast body of this recent scholarship. And this someone is Michael Hudson.

So let us reconsider Hudson’s fundamental insight in more vivid terms. In ancient Mesopotamian societies it was understood that freedom was preserved by protecting debtors. In what we call Western Civilization, that is, in the plethora of societies that have followed the flowering of the Greek poleis beginning in the eighth century B.C., just the opposite, with only one major exception (Hudson describes the tenth-century A.D. Byzantine Empire of Romanos Lecapenus), has been the case: For us freedom has been understood to sanction the ability of creditors to demand payment from debtors without restraint or oversight. This is the freedom to cannibalize society. This is the freedom to enslave. This is, in the end, the freedom proclaimed by the Chicago School and the mainstream of American economists. And so Hudson emphasizes that our Western notion of freedom has been, for some twenty-eight centuries now, Orwellianin the most literal sense of the word: War is Peace • Freedom is Slavery• Ignorance is Strength. He writes: “A constant dynamic of history has been the drive by financial elites to centralize control in their own hands and manage the economy in predatory, extractive ways. Their ostensible freedom is at the expense of the governing authority and the economy at large. As such, it is the opposite of liberty as conceived in Sumerian times” (p. 266).

And our Orwellian, our neoliberal notion of unrestricted freedom for the creditor dooms us at the very outset of any quest we undertake for a just economic order. Any and every revolution that we wage, no matter how righteous in its conception, is destined to fail.

And we are so doomed, Hudson says, because we have been morally blinded by twenty-eight centuries of deracinated, or as he says, decontextualized history. The true roots of Western Civilization lie not in the Greek poleis that lacked royal oversight to cancel debts, but in the Bronze Age Mesopotamian societies that understood how life, liberty and land would be cyclically restored to debtors again and again. But, in the eighth century B.C., along with the alphabet coming from the Near East to the Greeks, so came the concept of calculating interest on loans. This concept of exponentially-increasing interest was adopted by the Greeks — and subsequently by the Romans — without the balancing concept of Clean Slate amnesty.

So it was inevitable that, over the centuries of Greek and Roman history, increasing numbers of small farmers became irredeemably indebted and lost their land. It likewise was inevitable that their creditors amassed huge land holdings and established themselves in parasitic oligarchies. This innate tendency to social polarization arising from debt unforgiveness is the original and incurable curse on our post-eighth-century-B.C. Western Civilization, the lurid birthmark that cannot be washed away or excised. In this context Hudson quotes the classicist Moses Finley to great effect: “…. debt was a deliberate device on the part of the creditor to obtain more dependent labor rather than a device for enrichment through interest.” Likewise he quotes Tim Cornell: “The purpose of the ‘loan,’ which was secured on the person of the debtor, was precisely to create a state of bondage”(p. 52 — Hudson earlier made this point in two colloquium volumes he edited as part of his Harvard project: Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East, and Labor in the Ancient World).

Hudson is able to explain that the long decline and fall of Rome begins not, as Gibbon had it, with the death of Marcus Aurelius, the last of the five good emperors, in A.D. 180, but four centuries earlier, following Hannibal’s devastation of the Italian countryside during the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.). After that war the small farmers of Italy never recovered their land, which was systematically swallowed up by the prædia(note the etymological connection with predatory), the latifundia, the great oligarchic estates: latifundia Italiam (“the great estates destroyed Italy”), as Pliny the Elder observed. But among modern scholars, as Hudson points out, “Arnold Toynbee is almost alone in emphasizing the role of debt in concentrating Roman wealth and property ownership” (p. xviii) — and thus in explaining the decline of the Roman Empire.

“Arnold Toynbee,” Hudson writes, “described Rome’s patrician idea of ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’ as limited to oligarchic freedom from kings or civic bodies powerful enough to check creditor power to indebt and impoverish the citizenry at large. ‘The patrician  aristocracy’s monopoly of office after the eclipse of the monarchy [Hudson quotes from Toynbee’s book Hannibal’s Legacy] had been used by the patricians as a weapon for maintaining their hold on the lion’s share of the country’s economic assets; and the plebeian majority of the Roman citizen-body had striven to gain access to public office as a means to securing more equitable distribution of property and a restraint on the oppression of debtors by creditors.’ The latter attempt failed,” Hudson observes, “and European and Western civilization is still living with the aftermath” (p. 262).

Because Hudson brings into focus the big picture, the pulsing sweep of Western history over millennia, he is able to describe the economic chasm between ancient Mesopotamian civilization and the later Western societies that begins with Greece and Rome: “Early in this century [i.e. the scholarly consensus until the 1970s] Mesopotamia’s debt cancellations were understood to be like Solon’s seisachtheia of 594 B.C. freeing the Athenian citizens from debt bondage. But Near Eastern royal proclamations were grounded in a different social-philosophical context from Greek reforms aiming to replace landed creditor aristocracies with democracy. The demands of the Greek and Roman populace for debt cancellation can rightly be called revolutionary[italics mine], but Sumerian and Babylonian demands were based on a conservative tradition grounded in rituals of renewing the calendrical cosmos and its periodicities in good order. The Mesopotamian idea of reform had ‘no notion [Hudson is quoting Dominique Charpins book Hammurabi of Babylonhere] of what we would call social progress. Instead, the measures the king instituted under his mīšarum were measures to bring back the original order [italics mine]. The rules of the game had not been changed, but everyone had been dealt a new hand of cards’” (p. 133). Contrast the Greeks and Romans: “Classical Antiquity,” Hudson writes, “replaced the cyclical idea of time and social renewal with that of linear time. Economic polarization became irreversible, not merely temporary”  (p. xxv). In other words: “The idea of linear progress, in the form of irreversible debt and property transfers, has replaced the Bronze Age tradition of cyclical renewal” (p. 7).

After all these centuries, we remain ignorant of the fact that deep in the roots of our civilization is contained the corrective model of cyclical return – what Dominique Charpin calls the “restoration of order” (p. xix). We continue to inundate ourselves with a billion variations of the sales pitch to borrow and borrow, the exhortation to put more and more on credit, because, you know, the future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.

Nowhere, Hudson shows, is it more evident that we are blinded by a deracinated, by a decontextualizedunderstanding of our history than in our ignorance of the career of Jesus. Hence the title of the book: And Forgive Them Their Debts and the cover illustration of Jesus flogging the moneylenders — the creditors who do not forgive debts — in the Temple. For centuries English-speakers have recited the Lord’s Prayer with the assumption that they were merely asking for the forgiveness of their trespasses, their theological sins: “… and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us….” is the translation presented in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. What is lost in translation is the fact that Jesus came “to preach the gospel to the poor … to preach the acceptable Year of the Lord”: He came, that is, to proclaim a Jubilee Year, a restoration of deror for debtors: He came to institute a Clean Slate Amnesty (which is what Hebrew דְּרוֹר connotes in this context).

So consider the passage from the Lord’s Prayer literally: … καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν: “… and send away (ἄφες) for us our debts (ὀφειλήματα).” The Latin translation is not only grammatically identical to the Greek, but also shows the Greek word ὀφειλήματα revealingly translated as debita: … et dimitte nobis debita nostra: “… and discharge (dimitte) for us our debts (debita).” There was consequently, on the part of the creditor class, a most pressing and practical reason to have Jesus put to death: He was demanding that they restore the property they had rapaciously taken from their debtors. And after His death there was likewise a most pressing and practical reason to have His Jubilee proclamation of a Clean Slate Amnesty made toothless, that is to say, made merely theological: So the rich could continue to oppress the poor, forever and ever. Amen.

Just as this is a profound book, it is so densely written that it is profoundly difficult to read. I took six days, which included six or so hours of delightful and enlightening conversation with the author himself, to get through it. I often availed myself of David Graeber’s book Debt: The First 5,000 Years when I struggled to follow some of Hudson’s arguments. (Graeber and Hudson have been friends, Hudson told me, for ten years, and Graeber, when writing Debt; The First 5,000 Years, relied on Hudson’s scholarship for his account of ancient Mesopotamian economics, cf. p. xxiii). I have written this review as synopsis of the book in order to provide some help to other readers: I cannot emphasize too much that this book is indeed earth-shattering, but much intellectual labor is required to digest it.

ADDENDUM: Moral Hazard

When I sent a draft of my review to a friend last night, he emailed me back with this question:

— Wouldn’t debt cancellations just take away any incentive for people to pay back loans and, thus, take away the incentive to give loans? People who haven’t heard the argument before and then read your review will probably be skeptical at first.

Here is Michael Hudson’s response:

— Creditors argue that if you forgive debts for a class of debtors – say, student loans – that there will be some “free riders,” and that people will expect to have bad loans written off. This is called a “moral hazard,” as if debt writedowns are a hazard to the economy, and hence, immoral.

This is a typical example of Orwellian doublespeak engineered by public relations factotums for bondholders and banks. The real hazard to every economy is the tendency for debts to grow beyond the ability of debtors to pay. The first defaulters are victims of junk mortgages and student debtors, but by far the largest victims are countries borrowing from the IMF in currency “stabilization” (that is economic destabilization) programs.

It is moral for creditors to have to bear the risk (“hazard”) of making bad loans, defined as those that the debtor cannot pay without losing property, status or becoming insolvent. A bad international loan to a government is one that the government cannot pay except by imposing austerity on the economy to a degree that output falls, labor is obliged to emigrate to find employment, capital investment declines, and governments are forced to pay creditors by privatizing and selling off the public domain to monopolists.

The analogy in Bronze Age Babylonia was a flight of debtors from the land. Today from Greece to Ukraine, it is a flight of skilled labor and young labor to find work abroad.

No debtor – whether a class of debtors such as students or victims of predatory junk mortgages, or an entire government and national economy – should be obliged to go on the road to and economic suicide and self-destruction in order to pay creditors. The definition of statehood – and hence, international law – should be to put one’s national solvency and self-determination above foreign financial attacks. Ceding financial control should be viewed as a form of warfare, which countries have a legal right to resist as “odious debt” under moral international law.

The basic moral financial principal should be that creditors should bear the hazard for making bad loans that the debtor couldn’t pay — like the IMF loans to Argentina and Greece. The moral hazard is their putting creditor demands over the economy’s survival.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

185 comments

  1. Plenue

    So is Hudson making the claim that Jesus was never talking about ‘original sin’ at all? That he was talking about literal, temporal-world financial debts and the need to erase them?

    If so, when and where did this theological confusion arise? Saul of Tarsus and his mysticism?

    Reply
        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          And the German word for ‘interest’ is ‘Zins’ or ‘Zinsen.’

          I wonder how ‘Zins’ relates to ‘sin.’ Not related at all?

          Reply
      1. The Infernerator

        More clarifying, the word for “prison” and “hell” is the same in Swedish: Fang. It’s also a cuss word, as in “For fang!”

        Reply
    1. Steve H.

      King James version: “and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

      However, the temple whip episode demonstrated, by action, that he wanted separation of the material economy from the religious, and ‘render unto Caesar’ that money was not his concern. His inclusion of Matthew as a disciple had an antithesis with Simon the Zealot, sworn to kill tax collectors, and says that material and financial values were to be set aside amongst his followers.

      If Hudson is claiming that the verse refers solely to this-world indebtedness, then he’s out over his skis. Not Jesus’ problem.

      Reply
      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        ‘render unto Caesar’

        Did Jesus know he was living in the Pax Romana?

        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7tvauOJMHo

        Then of course there is the pharisee/sadducee conflict which ties into the Samaritan story. The Samaritans were basically Jews with their own temple that didn’t hand money over to the Sadducees at the big shrine in Jerusalem everyone is always going on about. Of course, Jesus does seem to share quite a bit in common with the Pharisees. Oh Lord, Jesus was probably taking orders for tables and chairs during the Sermon on the Mount!

        Reply
        1. ex-PFC Chuck

          “Of course, Jesus does seem to share quite a bit in common with the Pharisees.”

          In his book The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity the late British Talmudic scholar Hyam Maccoby argues exactly that – that Jesus was a pharisee. He further asserts that Saul arrived in Jerusalem seeking to study to become a Pharisee, a process that required extensive study, but couldn’t cut it. He then became an agent provocateur on behalf of the Sadducees in their efforts to suppress phariseeism and the related sect founded by Jesus’s disciples. After his “road to Damascus moment,” the now Paul cobbled together a new theology combining elements of Judaism with elements of the pagan, nature religions of the Middle East. This “Jerusalem Church,” as Maccoby labels it, disappeared from history following the Roman sack of the city in 70 CE. What has come down to us as the New Testament, argues the author in a footnote, is a history of early Christianity that is analogous to a Stalinist history of the Russian Revolution.

          Reply
          1. Jonathan Holland Becnel

            Very clarifying.

            I dont really understand the dynamics at play due to my private, CATHOLIC, grammar school.

            Reply
          2. Pespi

            That’s the theological equivalent to ‘climate change is a natural phenomenon.” That anti semitic ‘paul made it a jewish church’ heresy been considered incorrect for over 1000 years. read something else

            Reply
          3. Amfortas the hippie

            add in the Constantinian Shift…as well as the convenient lack of contemporary or original texts…and Christianity is hopelessly muddled. Theodosius muddled it even more.
            In the same way…as someone mentioned…Judaism was split by the Babylonian Captivity(the elites carted off, leaving the sub-elites in charge back home)…upon their return, texts and ideas were lost or burned, in the interest of temporal power.
            same as it ever was.
            in a former life, I endeavored to read all the source material of all this…even read Eusebius…Constantine’s pet bishop.
            the various apocryphae throw everything we think we know about the history—let alone the original versions–into question. Nobody I’ve encountered in the world of religion wants to go there…but the idea of “Flog a Banker—it’s what Jesus would do” resonates with ordinary Christians out here(except for the bankers, of course, and the rest of the parasitium.

            This book looks like a must-read. Any idea of a non-amazon source?

            Reply
        2. Procopius

          I was told, many years ago, that the Samaritans were the descendants of Jews who were not shipped off to Babylon, while the sect that became dominant were the descendants of those who went to Babylon. While there “in exile” they maintained their culture, but the two groups inevitably diverged. When they returned from Babylon that group found the ones who had not been exiled were not performing the rituals or interpreting “the Law” in exactly the same way they did. Of course it was not possible that their own practices had changed.

          Reply
          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            Only the elite went into captivity, a common means of securing loyalty and assimilation. My guess is the peasant religion probably wasn’t terribly different from area to area when you moved away from the coast and didn’t get too close to Babylon or Egypt and likely just assimilated new traditions various charismatic types passed through, not relying on anything too specific as overlords also changed. Jerusalem was the last place the major powers could fortify before they had to commit to a proper invasion of a major power. It was probably like Christendom before the schism between East and West with powerful regional churches and localized saints. Through the Americas, there are Christian celebrations with heavy local influence from the Mexican Day of the Dead to the Irish throwing parades which aren’t so welcoming.

            Islam strikes me more of a unifying religion of what was already there in a fashion especially where Rome (Byzantines) wasn’t really governing as well as a government should.

            Reply
      2. is

        I didn’t infer that “Hudson is claiming that the verse refers solely [italics mine] to this-world indebtedness.” I read it more like the term “debt” meant both financial and spiritual debt; there was not a distinction when the verse was written.

        Reply
    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      Since “original sin” is a cooked up explanation for why Jesus had to die and then come back (wink, wink), I would say he wasn’t discussing “original sin” as much as encouraging everyone to try being nice to each other for a change.

      Reply
      1. todde

        I’ve taken the position that the original sin was God’s, and that is why His Son had to die for it.

        Pretty harsh punishment for eating a fruit of a certain tree….

        it’s the only way the story makes any sense

        Reply
        1. In the Land of Farmers

          The original sin was humans gaining the knowledge of duality and hence, the creation of morality:

          Genesis 2:15

          15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.

          Genesis 3:4

          “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

          When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

          There are some who will say that Good and Evil in hebrew really mean that it was not duality, but they would know “everything”. However, if it did not mean good and evil why would Adam and Eve be ashamed because they were naked? They did not know they were naked because the dualism of naked/clothed did not exist.

          Duality already existed but God did not want them to know about it because it would mean they would suffer.

          Jesus was a teacher of non-dualism. How can one die if there is no dualism, if there is no opposite for “birth”?

          Reply
              1. Jonathan Holland Becnel

                Socrates had this Theory about Opposites regarding the soul, which i disagree with. It starts with SeauxCrates talking about how being awake is the opposite being asleep. Basically reasoning his way into proof of a soul.

                I once wrote a paper called Becnelian Philosophy wherein i argued against all the philosophers who believed in a Soul. Everyone from Plato to Descarte felt my wrath.

                Unimpressed, Dr Frank, University of Dallas, gave me a C-

                The infallibility of a ‘soul’ is something im unable to grasp.

                Aliens though? BRING EM ON!

                Reply
                1. Jerome

                  What did your research lead you to define as “the soul”?

                  Ive wondered about this myself, starting from ehat i learned in childhood- that it is a magic indefinable thing. However what i read was that it originally meant something closer to “the thinking part of the mind”

                  Ive enjoyed that definition for a while now, and it often transforms the inscrutable shit people say about the soul into something that either makes sense, or doesnt.

                  Would love to hear your take!

                  Reply
          1. todde

            I don’t know.

            God looked over his creation and saw it was Good. I doubt that is a moral statement.

            I think it has more to do with creation and destruction.

            They saw they were naked, so they destroyed gods creation, ‘fig leaves’, and created their own, ‘covering for themselves’.

            Then god says the punishment for this was ‘by the sweat of your brow, you will eat your bread’

            You were a hunter-gatherer, but now you have knowledge of creation and destruction, you will become ‘civilized’ and become a farmer.

            If we look at Cain and Abel we see one son was loved by god, while the other was not. It was civilized man who offering god rejected, not the hunter-gatherer.

            And after the murder, god told Cain “you are your brothers keeper’.

            Its civilization that makes one man rich and another poor. Hunter gatherers are much more egalitarian than civilized societies.

            Jesus, and many others, are here to remind us that we are all children of god and in this together.

            And that ‘civilized’ man has a duty to those who are ‘uncivilized’. The losers, they people who can’t make it, the bottom class, we owe them, because we ‘took’ their livelihood.

            Reply
            1. todde

              but again, if the original sin was ours, why did god come to earth(thousands of years later) to suffer and die?

              sorry for getting us all off topic

              Reply
              1. NotTimothyGeithner

                “Original Sin” isn’t part of Judaism or Islam despite the obvious inclusion of Adam and Eve. IMHO, its probably not possible to separate Christianity from the Imperial structures of Rome. A religion replacing a structure which makes its former leaders deities needs a good story to be successful.

                Adam and Eve aren’t important stories in Judaism and Islam (they are evidence of polytheistic roots), but they matter to Christians because of Saul’s rants.

                The other issue is the authors of the various doctrines depended on what they were attracted to. “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” If this line is the case, then in the narrative, Jesus needs to reflect the beginning and the end. He’s that important. Its like when Q was in the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the same setting as the premiere, but instead of dealing with a mystery, Picard has to deal with saving humanity and his fish once again. Its a nice bow, but when Kirk shows up in Generations after dealing with his issues both in Star Trek II and VI, it doesn’t work. One Gospel traces Jesus through the line of Kings, one through the prophets, and one just “the word.” The Son of God isn’t dying for an extra day of lamp oil.

                Mohammad is out there directing battles and building an empire that was probably better than what was there before. Jesus was born into Pax Romana. He could have been born into much worse places.

                Reply
            2. In the Land of Farmers

              I do not feel anything you wrote is in disagreement with my thoughts.

              Eden, I feel, is a an imprint of pre-history, of the paleolithic. A time when money was not the common story that people willingly (or unwillingly) currently believe. I think this is largely driven by genetics. If your genes can change by our diet why would they not be able to be changed by our culture?

              So I do not care if someone wants to be capitalist, just give me my space to be an anarchist. You capitalism does not work in my brain.

              Reply
              1. Susan

                You are granted anarchy within your thoughts and heart, but not in your physical life. Capitalism and the need to eat will not spare you.

                Reply
        2. EoH

          If Adam and Eve were a tale from Greek mythology, we would say the early Greeks invented a divine origin myth to explain then current circumstances.

          Parts of human existence were cruel, inhuman and beyond human explanation or control. Those things become less fearful – and we give ourselves some measure of control over them – by inventing an origin. In this case, the default cause of divine intervention.

          Humans acquired knowledge of the world and themselves over millenia. But it’s easier to explain it over the campfire by saying it came from God, via a single wholly predictable – to God – act of disobedience (by a woman, of course).

          The explanation would be credible, using today’s jargon, the more it mirrored then contemporary social experience. Perhaps that was a biblical way of admitting that, however occasionally errant, women have always been smarter than men: they acquired it from God, by way of a former servant and trickster. Asking for a friend.

          Reply
          1. Amfortas the hippie

            Genesis…according the the latest scholarship I read(still some years ago)…was written by a woman in Mesopotamia around the time Hudson is talking about. Probably a palace courtesan.
            Also of note is that YWH uses the royal We throughout…as in when talking to himself about the pesky humans “become like us”.
            another thing shorn out of what became the Monotheist Mythos is YWH’ consort…variously Ashera/Astarte, etc.
            God had a wife.
            Puts an interesting spin on all of the earliest forms of these myths.

            as for Eden…Bahrain looks like the place…now desertified….with the other two rivers of Eden now wadis in the wasteland.
            Long ago, it was a paradise…complete with a serpent cult that revered the Female Principal.
            also, since nobody yet has mentioned it…the gnostic Version of Eden makes YWH the bad guy…the demiurge(half-creator) who usurped power. In this take, the Snake was a prefiguration of Jesus…a liberatory, promethean savior sent by the Real God(way out there, beyond) to make us realise the false dualism that maintained YWH’s power.

            Reply
    3. EoH

      One word can do double or triple duty, or what is literary criticism for?

      Jesus could have and most probably did refer to both sin and debt. But he emphasized finding the divine in all of us and in everything here, in bringing heavenly conditions to this life – not waiting for some unknowable hereafter.

      Whatever else he was, he was a practical Mediterranean peasant village Jew, which meant he was concerned with how to improve circumstances for the many in the here and now. It is privileged institutions that defer improvement so that the sacrifices or changes needed for it to come about do not impinge on their privileged status. The debate is of longstanding, the Dominicans most often winning out over Franciscans.

      A startling example of the corruption of Jesus’ message can be found in the churches that proclaim wealth and success as measures of faith and their god’s love. Some would call that abasing oneself before a golden calf.

      Reply
      1. JEHR

        I like your explanation, EoH, as a lot of what Jesus said can be taken in different ways. When you think about it, forgiving a debt that is owed to you is one of the highest forms of “doing unto others.” If creditors are so worried about the forgiveness of debt causing a lot of freeloading amongst the population, then they should consider not giving out credit at all but helping the person in need. Jesus’s words are more powerful when both sins and debts are used interchangeably. I have no problem believing both because they enhance each other and become more powerful when considered together. People today cannot believe that we really should be kind to others: how else could Goldman Sachs deliberately make money from sub-prime mortgage derivatives without even considering those that would suffer most highly?

        Michael Hudson’s “message” is very powerful and I’m sure that finance will find him anathema to their own message that “debt is good.”

        We can now understand better why Jesus’s death was necessary as I’m sure many financiers would agree, especially if Hudson’s message becomes common knowledge (much the same as MMT!)

        Reply
        1. juliania

          I think it is extremely unfortunate that Professor Hudson chose to make claims about ‘mere theology’ that don’t have a basis in the texts concerning Jesus. The inference I get from reading all the evangelists wrote on the subject of the Lord’s Prayer is that debt collecting is indeed frowned upon, or rather to be forgiven, but what sense would it make for a follower of Jesus to ask God to forgive economic debt? And the evangelists expand that concept to mean, as has been earlier written by them, all the many shortcomings man is capable of, not just penury.

          Certainly the entire message of the Bible, old and new testaments, deals with the honorable matter of helping the poor, widows and orphans as well, because that is a good thing to do in the eyes of the Lord, who loves mankind created in His image as it is. All of that is part of the compassionate spiritual being He is and we ought to be.

          I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. For those of us who think the spiritual message is important, there is no conflict between our faith and Dr. Hudson’s excellent reminder that mankind realized what was necessary to provide for a stable earthly government very early in the historic record. But it has really always been recognized until the recent economic period that governments must manage equity in their populations or else come to a speedy ruin. Maybe never spelled out in economic theory, but even the pueblo Indians would have something to say on the matter. Chaco Canyon is a case in point.

          Reply
          1. EoH

            I think Dr. Hudson is commenting on what makes for a stable, just and durable society.

            Like symmetry, humans are exquisitely attuned to imbalances in equity and fairness. Ask two siblings made to share what they each most want. Governments and societies ignore that at their peril.

            I think he would say that much of economics is a form of special pleading, an argument by the wealthy that what they do to become wealthy is of great value to all (not just the few) – despite the overwhelming contrary evidence – and determined by the nearly divine laws of the market.

            Societies, like families, prosper, however, through enduring and repetitive self-sacrifice.

            Reply
            1. juliania

              Not to put words into Professor Hudson’s mouth, I would say that he is correct on the perceptions he has about the jubilee year as it is represented in the Old Testament and even Jesus’ reference to a jubilee year in the early part of his ministry. I give Professor Hudson great credit for pointing out that powerful part of Jesus’ early speech in the Temple that did scandalize many of the listeners there. I had not seen that message before Dr. Hudson pointed to it, but it is a very important one as he says. But Jesus was then and also in all his further sayings taking that economic law promulgated in earlier texts and not only pointing out that it wasn’t being observed by unscrupulous taxation practices, but also expanding it into a larger spiritual context wherein the poor are really blessed in spirit, because poverty is right down there with humility, and that emptying of oneself on behalf of another is where true compassion begins.

              In my faith, Jesus is God incarnate. God incarnate in order that we see in his humility, the humility intrinsic to God’s relationship to mankind. Humility and ‘humus’ are related, and so they should be. The hard shell of the seed falling to the ground preserves the soul of the seed, even as what hardens it is the vicissitudes of its early life. We all presently have life; we are like seeds that way. And as you say, EoH, societies, like families, prosper through enduring and repetitive self-sacrifice. That’s where faith and economics, true economics such as Professor Hudson is proposing, meet.

              Reply
      2. In the Land of Farmers

        The only church that, to me, holds to Jesus’s teaching is the Franciscan Church.

        Jesus also tried to help people with their fears of “doing without”. This is crucial to me. If you are unafraid to do without the capitalists have no power.

        25 Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? 26 Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto [a]the measure of his life? 28 And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

        Reply
    4. Peter

      There were different factions within Judaism vying for public and ideological support. A prophetic Judaism where “God desired mercy and not sacrifice”, where those who were outcasted by the priestly Judaism, the poor who couldn’t afford the Priestly ritual, taxes that enriched the Pharisaic elite that acted as a proxy for Rome, the alien, the sinner, etc. In this prophetic tradition love your neighbor, forgiveness of debts, and extending your neighbor to include this traditionally outcasted, alongside predictions of Judgement for the temple elites, and return of Gods Kingdom. Jesus belonged in this tradition. Jesus was seen as a political and religious messiah in this tradition.

      Paul belonged to the Pharisaic tradition but had some sort of religious/mystical conversion to move from prosecuting early Christian’s to starting a Christ cult. Instead of Jesus proclaiming God desired Mercy and not sacrifice, Paul claimed Jesus became the required sacrifice. Instead of forgiveness of debts, mercy and acceptance being the way to God, Jesus became the priestly ritual and christianity became a cult. Richard Horsely has done great research on First century Judaism and the historical Jesus. I also really like “the last week” by Borg and crossan

      Reply
  2. Sastun

    This is a very similar thesis to one found in David Graebers “5000 Years of Debt”, interesting that it’s the conclusion being arrived at by multiple scholars.

    Reply
    1. Michael Fiorillo

      No disrespect to the admirable Michael Hudson, et. al., and not to make a contrary argument on a subject I know nothing about, but it wouldn’t be the first time that “the conclusion being arrived at by multiple scholars,” was more reflective of the era in which scholars were working than the one they were studying.

      Just sayin’…

      Reply
    2. diptherio

      Um…no.

      Graeber and Hudson have been friends, Hudson told me, for ten years, and Graeber, when writing Debt; The First 5,000 Years, relied on Hudson’s scholarship for his account of ancient Mesopotamian economics…

      It’s Hudson’s scholarship, Graeber just used it.

      Reply
    3. PN

      was just going to add the point about “Debt”. I found Graeber’s work to be fascinating, especially how the relationship between “sin” and debt, and the implications on the development and rise of Christianity, the rejection of homosexuality (not just wives and daughters became sex slaves), and perhaps most importantly, how wrong market fundamentalist are in their understanding of how economic systems evolve and their belief that market-based systems are “natural”, arising from a pre-market barter state.

      Reply
      1. Sastun

        It’s an excellent alternative to the creation myths of mainstream economics. I’ve listened to the audio book three times through and gotten more out of it each time. It’s always a pleasure to see ‘conventional wisdom’ dethroned by that most pernicious of enemies: actual history.

        Reply
  3. vidimi

    looking forward to picking up a copy. loved graeber’s Debt: and this seems to build on that and adds Hudson’s economic background to Graeber’s anthropological one

    Reply
  4. Raulb

    There is no ‘moral hazard’. This is a non sequitur designed to deceive like a lot of ‘sponsored’ economic theory. Every loan carries a risk and the risk is it won’t be paid back.

    The moral hazard argument only applies if debts are paid back at once, thus debtors can ‘wait’ for a jubilee. In the real world debt is paid back in bits along with interest. So no one will be waiting for jubilee in day to day economic life without facing consequences.

    What a debt jubilee does is wipes the slate clean of loans that ‘won’t’ be paid back, and maintains systemic balance rather than concentration and exploitation.

    Reply
    1. JCC

      It’s also pretty telling that those who control the “moral hazard” meme rarely if ever discuss the moral hazard of bailing out major Corps and Financial Houses or the “moral hazard” of handing large Corps years of taxpayer contributions to various States.

      Reply
      1. PKMKII

        Also overlooks that outside of personal debt, the world of corporate debt see “strategic defaults” occur all the time with no moral hand wringing involved. Debts are a promise to pay back, not an obligation.

        Reply
    2. Enquiring Mind

      Make debts non-recourse. That would have a cleansing effect, perhaps at the cost of Joe Biden’s campaign coffers.

      Reply
    3. Sastun

      I had an interesting argument with my brother-in-law several years ago, usually a very level headed fellow who was going back to school for engineering in his 30s, as soon as I brought up the possibility of dissolving student debt he grew quite heated. To paraphrase:

      “Why should I be punished for responsibly paying back my loans while someone else who was irresponsible gets that debt annulled?”

      Moral outrage for the debtors being forgiven their sin! Of course, a few years later with his debt built up his tune had completely changed…

      Reply
      1. rd

        Bankruptcy is essentially a form of debt jubilee that isn’t society-wide on a specific date. The big problem I see with student loan debt is that it can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Individual bankruptcy is not something to enter into lightly, but there are a number of people out there who can never pay back their student debt and they should be able to go through bankruptcy and reduce it to a manageable level so they can live the rest of their lives productively instead of indentured servitude. At the very least, Social Security should not be garnished to pay student debt.

        Reply
  5. Stadist

    Very nice read!

    It has been voiced by many people that ECB should set and achieve higher inflation targets, but it sticks to the 2% target, for ‘price stability’, while underachieving even on that. Keeping inflation target extremely low should serve the creditors more than the debtors.

    Real “moral hazard” are people who enable this system.

    Reply
  6. Loneprotester

    I’ll have to pick up a copy of the book, which sounds quite interesting. However, I cannot go along with the argument made here that Western Civilization is less civilized than the Ancient Near East because it did not include regular debt jubilees.

    Western civilization, until very recently, had very strict anti-usury laws which prevented most people from borrowing money at all, let alone falling into debt servitude. Indeed, while laws varied widely from place to place, most victims of over-borrowing were royal courts and aristocrats, not smallholders. And of course, since most moneylenders were Jewish, one solution for debtors regularly employed was to simply run the creditors out of town or indeed, the country. Isn’t that a kind of jubilee?

    Reply
    1. David

      Depends what you mean by “very recently.” In theory, and according to canon law (Deuteronomy 23:19) lending at interest was completely forbidden. But quite sophisticated banking systems had developed by the end of the middle ages, and “usury” became increasingly defined as just “excessive interest”. There was a huge controversy over this in the 16th an 17th centuries, effectively ending with the creation of the Bank of England in 1694. Most countries had (and still have) laws against “usury” – excessive rates of interest – but that’s a different issue. Many ordinary people until quite recently lived on non-cash economies and so this was, as you say, largely an issue for the rich. Kings in those days frequently went bankrupt, usually because of the need to finance wars. Interestingly, one of the biggest borrowers was the Pope, in his role as a secular prince. He had an account with the Medici Bank in Florence, which was usually overdrawn. Someone should write a history of the effect of the debts of Princes on history.

      Reply
      1. HotFlash

        Supposedly the richest man *ever* was Baron Fugger. His biography by Streider is a great read. He kept the Pope’s plate as collateral for some debt or another — when the Pope wanted to disaplay it in some procession, the Baron agreed. He personally accompanied the convoy that brought the plate to Rome and also marched with it in the procession. What a message that must have sent!

        Reply
        1. EoH

          He was a miner as well as banker. Some of those mines, like earlier Roman ones across the Mediterranean, remain among the most polluted spots on earth.

          Reply
      2. greg

        Yes. Well, the problem with interest rates being too low is because the wealthy already have enough money, nominally speaking, to buy the world a couple times over. There is already too much money tucked away by the wealthy as assets, but because of interest and profits, more money is always being taken out of circulation in the real economy, and sequestered in the financial sector. Even as the government borrows to replace it in circulation, and so prevent *deflation.* in the real economy. The money will (eventually) be destroyed, but since the government(s) of the world are too weak, it won’t be by collecting taxes, (a la MMT.)

        Reply
  7. Dan

    The parallels of debt oligarchies to tech oligarchies, this article draws for me…..

    “So it was inevitable that, in the last century of American history, increasing numbers of small firms became irredeemably unviable and lost their ability to compete. It likewise was inevitable that the FANGS amassed the masses of entrepreneurial talent and established themselves in parasitic oligarchies.”

    Reply
    1. Summer

      “It likewise was inevitable that the FANGS amassed the masses of entrepreneurial talent and established themselves in parasitic oligarchies.”

      The last line, everything after ‘and’, is evident, but nothing about the first part is verifiable fact.

      Reply
  8. ken

    “by keeping “everybody above the break-even level”

    why? to enable – the planet to go from 7 Billion people to 14 Billion?

    in an age of AI and vast chasm of IQ’s below 100 – what could be the purpose?

    Reply
    1. Summer

      I’m going to get the book.
      And I wonder if the notion of “IQ” and what we’ve come to believe is “intelligent” could have been as manipulated as people’s relationship with and beliefs about debt.

      Reply
    2. Jonathan Holland Becnel

      Ummm how about we actually TEACH those 14 Billion how to live properly.

      What is with yall basically calling for genocide?

      Fear is the Mind Killer

      Reply
  9. hemeantwell

    For what is the most basic condition of civilization, Hudson asks, other than societal organization that effects lasting “balance” by keeping “everybody above the break-even level”?

    That’s the core regulating idea Geoff Mann draws out of Keynes in his recent “In the Long Run We Are All Dead.” As best as I can tell his take on Keynes is accurate, and he’s able to make a case for aligning him with the likes of Hegel and — drum roll — Robespierre, who was fiercely insistent on the guarantee of an “honorable poverty.” In a way, they were all theorists of the abyss, pragmatists who insisted on measures to make sure economies didn’t kill their members. I was particularly taken by the idea that the General Theory is not systematic but rather an analysis of different modes of breakdown, e.g. the liquidity trap, that must be compensated for.

    It’s also worth noting that, according to Mann, Keynes was a poor, indifferent reader of Marx, and that a better appreciation would have led Keynes to see they were in significant agreement on some crisis dynamics in capitalism.

    Reply
  10. Foppe

    “latifundia Italiam (“the great estates destroyed Italy”), as Pliny the Elder observed.” < the quote is lacking its verb; should read "latifundia perdidere Italiam".

    Also, Hudson’s quote in the addendum seems to partly lack indentation

    Reply
  11. Alex

    Looking forward to reading it. I really enjoyed the History of debt by David Graeber so would be interesting to go more in depth.

    Does Hudson discuss bankruptcy law? After all in most of the world most types of loans can be discharged in a bankruptcy which is the closest we have to the Jubilees

    Reply
    1. orange cats

      Except, of course, for the 1.5 trillion student loan debt.

      “For us freedom has been understood to sanction the ability of creditors to demand payment from debtors without restraint or oversight. This is the freedom to cannibalize society. This is the freedom to enslave. This is, in the end, the freedom proclaimed by the Chicago School and the mainstream of American economists”

      Reply
      1. Alex

        I said ‘most’ twice. But you are right that it’s not universal and just like other good things can be eroded and wither.

        Reply
        1. orange cats

          I only mentioned it because it’s an example of an enormous, oppressive, non-dischargeable debt for something that used to be considered a public good, and almost free.

          Reply
    2. EoH

      The No Creditor Left Behind Bankruptcy “Reform” Act of 2005 carved a big hole in the idea of debt forgiveness in America. Neoliberalism at its finest. Rescinding those changes would probably be a big win for Democrats at the polls and in governance.

      Reply
      1. orange cats

        Yes. Bankruptcy is hardly any kind of Jubilee. Any debt is much harder to discharge post 2005, including medical, which is the cause of half of bankruptcies according to filers.

        Reply
      2. polecat

        But that would mean showing contrition by the very malefactors who (hear’s looking at you – Biden, Schumer, Clinton .. along with their counterparts across the aisle)
        Don’t expect rescission from the likes of them !

        Reply
      3. Jean

        The Plutocrats are just ‘Biden their time until they own everything.
        He’s the main one responsible for this as a U.S. Senator servicing those “little family businesses” headquartered in Delaware.

        Reply
    3. Doug Hillman

      Wonder the same about bankruptcy. IIRC, think the moneychangers’ bankruptcy “reform” under the Bush II regime turned it into a virtual debtors’ prison, excluding several kinds of debt from discharge, including student loans.

      Student loans. Now there’s a naked fleecing scam by the moneychangers. High interest, zero risk, no forgiveness. A great racket if you can get it, like Medical Insurance, profiteering guaranteed by Obamacare.

      Hudson perceives things that should be but aren’t obvious — about money, power, and freedom. The love of money may be the root of all evil, but it’s ultimately a weapon wielded in an insatiable lust for power, absolute, utterly corrupt power, the ownership and enslavement of others. Inequality is not a flaw of rigged-market cannibalism; it’s a feature, a feature those at the top of the food chain have no intention of “fixing”. The US empire, imo, is the nadir of this evil, a kleptocracy dependent on perpetual mass-murder. The paradox is, they may be more enslaved to their narcotic than anyone.

      “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” Janis Joplin

      Reply
      1. Enquiring Mind

        I wonder if Janis was an organ donor? These days, organ harvesting doesn’t seem as far-fetched. Were all those just urban legends about waking up in an ice bath with a note attached about that impromptu kidney donation? /s

        Reply
  12. Chas

    Regarding the point of moral hazard: what would Hudson’s reply be to the person who says “I paid off all my debts through hard work and abstinence; why should someone get a free pass under the Jubilee. To yours truly, that would be ultimate slap in the face

    Reply
    1. Steve H.

      My take from other Hudson interviews is that it referred solely to royal/government debt, the tab at the local pub didn’t go away.

      Reply
      1. Michael Hudson

        Yes, the tab at the pub DID go away. A “pub” is “public house”, in Babylonia too. The ale wives weren’t paid — and they in turn didn’t have to pay the palace or temples for the consignment of beer.
        A clean slate is a clean slate — for consumer debts (NOT business debts).
        It’s necessary to read the book to get the details. i guarantee that nobody can deduce Bronze Age finance abstractly.

        Reply
          1. Susan the other

            Cooperation. Because we can decline the idea of debt right back to one thing. Cooperation. When Graeber says “Money is Debt” he is right but he fails to define the root of debt. Because debt is not money. It’s just as the biologist here on NC said: If one amoeba hoarded all the ATP it would simply kill off the rest of the amoeba because adenosinetriphosphate is their source of energy, their “money”. The original sin is getting money mixed up by claiming it is both a medium of exchange and a store of value. The word “store” goes off in its own direction and becomes “hoard” and “deprive others”. You get my drift? Debt must be cooperation for the system to work.

            Reply
          2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            A business loan used to help pay for workers’ insurance – that would seem to be worthy of consideration.

            A consumer loan used for an exotic vacation in the middle of an ocean – not so worthy.

            A debt owed for child support or ex-wife (or husband) – would that be private or public?

            Reply
          1. Steve H.

            Found the source of my misunderstanding:

            “In such cases rulers cancelled debts that were owed. (In that case, the ale women would not owe the palace for the beer that had been advanced during the crop year.)”

            I had not put it together that the consumers were then forgiven by the ale women. Stands to reason.

            Reply
        1. skippy

          “i guarantee that nobody can deduce Bronze Age finance abstractly.”

          Now that I can lift myself off the floor after the spastic convulsions of laughter that brought on….. Kudos Sir…. that was the best chortle I’ve had in yonks – !!!!!!! It is probably the most hilarious synopsis of what ails about 90% of what we call economics at this juncture.

          I think I’ll have that put to paper in calligraphy and in a stunning frame on the wall next to my Japanese charcoal art collection, of which sits on the wall around my comp screen.

          Reply
    2. Will S.

      Let me get this straight… your stance is basically, “I had to suffer through injustice and I survived, why should anybody else get to have any justice?!”

      Reply
      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        It seems to favor mortgaged ‘owners’ of homes, if those loans are not considered ‘business.’

        And disadvantages renters (who are thinking of borrowing to buy in the near future).

        Reply
    3. eg

      The answer is so that those other people will be able to sustain the consumption that is necessary to absorb your production so that you don’t get laid off — but this requires an understanding of macroeconomics unavailable in the current economic orthodoxy.

      Reply
  13. Andy

    I’ve seen these arguments supporting debt forgiveness many, many times, but I have yet to see any details on how this would be functionally accomplished today. I don’t disagree with the sentiment that debt has become a huge problem for many people, but sentiments aren’t road maps.

    One person’s debt is another person’s credit. If you wipe out the debt on one side, you extinguish the asset on the other (unless, of course, the sovereign government “buys” this debt from the creditors in an eminent domain type fashion). Perhaps in ancient times creditors were mostly well-healed oligarchs who could survive the loss. Today, much of the debt is bundled and securitized and held by all sorts of individuals and institutions (think mutual funds, pension plans, 401k’s etc). While the one-percenters could absorb the hit, I’m not so sure about those lower on the ladder who thought their retirement savings were secure in a “safe” bond fund.

    At some point, supporters of debt forgiveness need to reconcile their position with the fact that the extinguishing of debt is, in effect, a sovereign action taking the property of another on a scale without much parallel in modern society.

    Reply
    1. todde

      You could exchange equity interest for debt for business loans or loans secured by an underlying asset. (mortgage loan).

      You could extend the time period or write down the interest rate enabling smaller payments.

      You could have the Fed buy the debt, as you mentioned, and then forgive it.

      You could have the fed take over payments, or a portion of the payment, thereby proving relief for the debtor while still keeping the creditor whole.

      There are always alternatives.

      Reply
    2. Alex

      I think in the Ancient Middle East the government was the most important creditor (with the debt arising from tax arrears) so yes, it was easier to forgive a debt then than now.

      As I wrote a few lines before, another option (which has an advantage of having been in use for centuries) is a bankruptcy.

      Reply
      1. Norm

        Credit is an essential tool for stimulating any economy. Farmers often need funds to buy seeds and get through the winter, auto manufacturers couldn’t possibly survive if they had to demand full payment up front for their cars, etc., etc (think up your own examples).

        An intelligent state (or rather an idealized intelligent state) can and should issue credit or print money to best utilize the society’s productive potential. The problems begin when the state allows this crucial function to be monopolized by the oligarchs, who unlike the state are in the game only for profit, not for upgrading the overall well being (or war readiness, if you prefer) of the society. A state that can print its own money can either dispense with interest charges or forgive debt when it the debt/interest burden is excessive. Since private lenders, who don’t own the government, can’t print money, they’re in no position to forgive debt. The advantage of maintaining a belief in the sanctity of debt, and therefore the immiseration of the debtors, is that it allows the oligarchs to amass staggering wealth, and build fabulous Xanadus in Malibu or on Long Island. You really wouldn’t want to live in a world where nobody could afford a thirty thousand square foot house, would you?

        Reply
      1. Enquiring Mind

        Would enjoy seeing a discussion between Hudson, Keen, Baker, Black and others to whom I have been exposed on this website. (Donation pending)

        Reply
    3. HotFlash

      At some point, supporters of debt forgiveness need to reconcile their position with the fact that the extinguishing of debt is, in effect, a sovereign action taking the property of another on a scale without much parallel in modern society.

      Let me suggest a parallel or two: the acquisition of property by means of enforced indebtedness combined with creditor fraud that occurred in the Great Foreclosure Carnage around 2008? Or the appropriation of the lion’s share of economic growth since 1970 to the richest 1% or so?

      Reply
    4. coboarts

      You may have solved the problem right here: “the sovereign government “buys” this debt.” MMT is the perfect mechanism to do this. It accomplishes what the Temple could do in the past. Then, the banking and insurance services required by society can be shifted to the National Postal Service. Speculation, for those who need it, can be continued in the casinos, where it belongs. And then we can have a real discussion about the “resource base” we call Earth and look at ways that we can live within it, and even possibly beyond it, without irreversibly damaging the ecology we need to revisit all this again, and again, and again…

      Reply
  14. johnnygl

    I would email your friend back and say, “you write like this is a bad thing!??!!?”

    Creditors SHOULD be required to exercise judgement and restrai t in extending credit. It’s moral hazard in the other direction if the government lets them squeeze the life out of people.

    Reply
  15. Paul

    Maybe its cause I have an M.div.

    How is this earth shattering? Its been the basic view of every dusty old Old Testament churchman for years.
    Sounds like Hudson skipped medieval cannon law and early modern eras to try and bolster the “rediscovery” angle.

    This is old hat:
    Creditors aiming to own you- proverbs
    Jubilee- Torah
    Debts- they stoped saying that only in the 60s but I learned it like that.

    But… Hudson really shoulda resisted the urge to name drop Jesus quite so hard and make him the economic revolutionary. Or is he trying to give reasons for his probable opponents to write him off?

    We on here are the choir. What do the folks in the pews here?

    If he’d of kept the prophetic, he had then an ability to reach down into the prophets which condemn growing estates, refusing jubilees, and even condemned sacrificing Children (for material benefits from Idols) he would then be wielding a whole and big religion stick… Not just casting yet another 1800s historical Jesus.

    Reply
    1. barefoot charley

      I think you’re overlooking the difference between prophecy and history here. Jesus was another quite noisy prophet, saying what prophets say: “God’s gonna getcha!” And of course He got His for saying that, as they usually do.

      We’ve been ignoring prophets while sanctifying them for a very long time. Hudson stitches them back into the fabric of history. He takes them far more seriously and literally than canon lawyers have. He helps me to understand their topsy-turvy justification of–to build on your delightful auto-correct–cannon law.

      Reply
  16. Paul Larudee

    What is the trigger point for debt forgiveness? When does it operate and upon what class of debtors? Is it predictable or unpredictable? Is it frequent or infrequent?

    It needs to be frequent enough yet to some extent unpredictable, or a class of predatory debtors will be created, piling up debt immediately before the jubilee.

    This is a means of redistribution of wealth. But aren’t there better means, such as a minimum basic income AKA universal SSI and other social entitlements? Of course, this assumes that government seeks public welfare and is not merely the collective will of a predatory oligarchy. Also not sure how it applies to the redistribution of wealth between nations.

    Sorry, haven’t read the book yet.

    Reply
    1. Skip Intro

      Debtors can’t pile up debt before the jubilee unless creditors loan them a lot before the jubilee. Is that likely?

      Reply
    2. marym

      If a student and medical debt jubilee, for example, were coupled with free tuition at public colleges and M4A there would be no accumulation of debt going forward. I don’t know if there are comparable systemic changes for other types of debt, and most of this discussion is over my head as far as theology or economic history. However, if it’s about a religious, social justice, or moral force for forgiving debts, it would include re-framing how we think of society and our obligations to each other – not just debt forgiveness but changes to structures to guard against further unsustainable debt.

      Reply
  17. rd

    WW I, the Russian Revolution, and WW II make one wonder about the definition of “Western Civilization”.

    Each of these occurred after a period of very high wealth and income inequality with large public and private debts in some cases.

    the past century of history makes one wonder how smart it is for the 0.1% to focus on increasing wealth and income inequality. It frequently does not end well for anybody. Skeletons of wealthy and “noble” people at the bottom of mine shafts is often proof of that.

    Reply
    1. John Rose

      And Piketty shows that these events interrupted and temporarily reversed the accumulation of wealth, ushering in the abundance of the mid twentieth century.

      Reply
  18. Eclair

    ‘“Classical Antiquity,” Hudson writes, “replaced the cyclical idea of time and social renewal with that of linear time. Economic polarization became irreversible, not merely temporary” (p. xxv). In other words: “The idea of linear progress, in the form of irreversible debt and property transfers, has replaced the Bronze Age tradition of cyclical renewal” ‘

    I remember reading one of John Michael Greer’s posts a few years back that pointed out the differences in Western concept of time-as-linear and other, earlier societies’, concept of time as circular. We, in the West, think things will become increasingly better, (or worse) right up to infinity. GDP will always grow, the stock market will always rise, freedom will always increase.

    Other societies thought of events as cyclical. The early growth of spring blossomed into the fruitfulness of summer, then decayed in autumn and lay fallow in winter (or whatever passed for winter where you were living). That’s how Nature worked. And, it is inevitable that societies grow, prosper, decline, die, then are renewed.

    And, using the circle in deliberative sessions probably leads to different results than the usual Western, linear one, of having the ‘leaders’ sitting in front, and the ‘followers’ facing them in a subservient position. Witness the setups of most city council chambers.

    Reply
    1. EoH

      Stephen Jay Gould wrote about it at length in Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle (1987).

      His immediate topic was the history of the discovery of deep time, the idea that processes observable today could explain vast changes in the earth if allowed to act over long enough spans of time. Being Gould, he considers cultural applications beyond geology and evolution.

      One application is that the “biblical” version of a jubilee year was by the time of the writing of the bible an ancient idea that had survived several thousand years of middle eastern history. That writing was contemporaneous with the early Greeks and predates the impact of Alexander and Roman rule over the eastern Mediterranean.

      Reply
    2. eg

      Cycles are real (see Nature); linear progress is delusional.

      Which is why our deluded system of imaginary linear growth is subject to chronic booms and busts which bring cyclical reality back — Every. Single. Time.

      Reply
  19. Jeremy Grimm

    I am troubled by these statements in the post:
    “…to the extent that it will be understood,’earth-shattering’ in both intent and effect.” … “Just as this is a profound book, it is so densely written that it is profoundly difficult to read.”
    I fear too much that is “earth-shattering” will be lost if it is profoundly difficult. Readers less able or less determined will let the interpretations of others sway their understanding. Those others may not share the author’s perspective or intent in their interpretations, and they may not be of persons of honesty and good will.

    Reply
  20. Chas

    How would Hudson respond to the person who laments ” I worked and deprived my self to pay back my loan. Why should someone else get a free ride, if I did not”?

    Reply
    1. Alex

      I guess he would say that there is another moral hazard, on part of the lender which has to be balanced against it. If I as a lender know that I can collect any loan that I make up to enslaving the debtor if he falls in arrears then I don’t assume any risk and have no skin in the game.

      Reply
    2. knowbuddhau

      Times change, we learn from mistakes, and change our ways? Before we did the wrong thing, now we’re getting it right?

      Why does someone else being done justice hurt you? It’s not a “free ride,” either; that implies getting something for nothing. Farmers wiped out by drought were hardly getting a free ride when they were forgiven debts for grain that didn’t grow in fields that didn’t exactly plant and tend themselves. People often do immense amounts of work only for the bottom to drop out on the way back from the well.

      One day I took a fall off a 4′ ladder, helping a friend paint their house, shattering my left wrist. The $20,000 bill sent my life into a tailspin. Finally declared bankruptcy, but I’ve still got a few years of purgatory.

      That was no “free ride,” friend.

      I paid back my student loans, and it sucked. Literally sucked the food off my table many a month. And I would rejoice at someone else not having to go through that. Education should be free, to begin with, so relieving people of crushing burdens they shouldn’t have at all would be doubly enjoyable.

      Reply
    3. eg

      The answer is so that those other people will be able to sustain the consumption that is necessary to absorb your production so that you don’t get laid off — but this requires an understanding of macroeconomics unavailable in the current economic orthodoxy.

      Reply
  21. Synoia

    Hudson appears to assert that in the translation of the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek was subjet to “interpretation” or “political correctness.”

    I’m shocked to discover the churchmen of the day were so swayed by the considerations of mammon and things temporal, just shocked.

    Reply
      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        My humble opinion on the subject is, like numismatic coins, typos make the thing (whatever that is) more valuable.

        That opinion helps me, many times, to persist in my laziness to correct.

        Reply
  22. In the Land of Farmers

    Jesus was not just driving the debt collectors out of the temple, he was driving out all of the capitalists:

    Mark 11:15 KJV

    15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;

    16 And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.

    17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

    So he was kicking out people who were selling things in the temple, not just the money changers, all the capitalists. A vessel carried goods and he did not even want to see them in the temple.

    It is not enough to end debt, because that still leaves us with capitalism.

    The VERY NEXT verse is Mark 12, The Parable of the Tenants, literally telling the capitalists that the people will rise up if you follow capitalism and then they will have to kill the renters.

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+12&version=NIV

    Reply
      1. diptherio

        Oh, no, you don’t. In the story it’s the renters. My bad. But the renters in the story would, I suppose, be equivalent to the rentiers we find ourselves plagued with today…

        Reply
  23. oaf

    “That is what creditors really wanted: Not merely the interest as such, but the collateral — whatever economic assets debtors possessed, from their labor to their property, ending up with their lives”
    Creditors=Predators

    Reply
  24. PKMKII

    I would argue that it would be more appropriate to say that the prædia/latifundia explains the ascent of the medieval feudal order rather than explaining the decline of the Roman empire. The fall of the WRE is a multi-faceted phenomenon with no singular cause, and besides it’s a bit suspect to say that something that came about 6 centuries earlier caused it. The latifundia provided the template for social order that would fill the void left by the collapse of the WRE, reaching its apex in high medieval manorialism.

    Reply
    1. Unna

      Late to comment on this but I always thought it would be an interesting thought to write a history of the Western Roman Empire backwards in time starting maybe at the early middle ages as the final presence of the Empire itself. As the end point of the Empire. As a culmination of a process and working back tracing each step that was “caused” by the previous one stretching back to its beginning in the 2d Cent BCE Rome-Italy and the economic problems of debt, loss of the small farming economy, and the political social consequences. The Roman victory in the Second Punic as the beginning of it as an Imperium with the Middle Ages as its logical end, or so to speak, final “perfection”.

      Reply
  25. JerryDenim

    Fascinating scholarship with very far reaching and profound implications, but I’m not really satisfied with Hudson’s answer to the friend of John Siman. The question posed is a very fair one and of a very practical nature, concerning the possible deleterious effects of systemic debt forgiveness on credit/lending. Hudson’s answer, at least as it’s presented here, sidesteps the question and instead dives into a discussion of morality. I would think loan durations, terms, interest rates, and generalized credit availability would all vary greatly depending on whether or not debt cancellation was a regularly occurring, scheduled event or a more fluid and unpredictable event based on political winds and the whims of whatever autocrat happens to be in power. Regardless of the morality of a particular debt/monetary system, requests for more information concerning the likely side effects of debt forgiveness programs and any lessons regarding best debt forgiveness practices from the ancient civilizations who practiced it are very much in order if Hudson is making the argument that systematic debt cancellation is preferable to our present system of lifelong compounding debts and generational indebtedness. I’m certainly not saying Hudson is off base here, I like where he’s going with his scholarship, but these are inevitable questions. Anyone interested in the history Hudson has unearthed will want to know if he believes debt forgiveness could work in a modern, interconnected, industrial society or if it only works with pre-industrial grain farming peasants and a small class of aristocrats.

    Big topic. Perhaps that’s another book?

    Reply
    1. Pespi

      Oh my, perhaps the system that allowed the entire human world to be poisoned into extinction would end. That would be awful, so many portfolios would be ruined.

      Reply
  26. Wilson

    Who is going to lend money for a loss? Credit card lenders manage risk with high interest rates, limited credit lines, and closing accounts at will: good luck paying for college on those terms. I’d guess the generous loan forgiveness in ancient times was made possible through slave labor and spoils of war

    Reply
    1. knowbuddhau

      What if students didn’t have to pay for college? Or patients, health care? Pretty sure I’d’ve done a much better job of spreading that money around than the deep pockets it went into. Maybe, in not being unduly indebted myself, I could’ve helped others do likewise, at least in my small way.

      Where’s the money going to come from? We have all the money we need, and then some, for the things we deem necessary. Ask Wall St. and the Pentagon.

      Reply
  27. Kevin

    So I guess my question to all this is : why has Western civilisation not collapsed? What’s the mechanisms that we have used that say, the Romans, didn’t?

    Reply
    1. knowbuddhau

      Who says we’re not collapsing right now?

      The plow gave farmers mechanical advantage to speed things up. The steam engine, then internal combustion, did likewise. Computers are aka information engines.

      Sure, we’ve got immense momentum, way more than ever, but we’re headed straight for Climate Change Peak. And the morons in the cockpit? I can’t even.

      Reply
  28. greensachs

    Thank you Huck,

    For your decades long, truth to power investigative and intellectual rigor. The experience(s) from a young age, up to and including your work on modern money and now this latest book.
    Truly a view from a life long perspective the likes of which may never come along again.
    A voice that is worthy of attention.

    disseminate widely!

    Reply
  29. Todde

    I wonder about the sources of debt in ancient times?

    It wasn’t driven by consumerism like todays debt is, was it?

    Hopefully the book will speak to this.

    Reply
  30. RBHoughton

    Satisfying explanation of the failure of European and now North American society to achieve civilisation due to our reliance on Greek and Roman precedents for our public acts. We were besotted by the birth of democracy in Athens and the abuse of force in Rome.

    I shall buy this book, not because I am unaware of the basic argument but because I expect Michael Hudson has a great many illustrations of the improved society that assyriologists have discovered.

    It is a great personal delight to know Hudson values Arnold Toynbee, one of my heroes and a fine human being. Thanks NC for the review.

    Reply
    1. John Siman

      John Siman here. You seem to be one of only a few people posting comments who understands the depth and vastness and importance of Hudson’s project. You also love Toynbee. All this makes me very happy!

      Reply
      1. Carolinian

        I’ve never read Toynbee and my library only has a couple of his books. But I’ve read elsewhere that he fell from scholarly favor in part because of his critical view of Zionism. From Wikipedia:

        Toynbee maintained, among other contentions, that the Jewish people have neither historic nor legal claims to Palestine, stating that the Arab

        “population’s human rights to their homes and property over-ride all other rights in cases where claims conflict.” He did concede that the Jews, “being the only surviving representatives of any of the pre-Arab inhabitants of Palestine, have a further claim to a national home in Palestine.” But that claim, he held, is valid “only in so far as it can be implemented without injury to the rights and to the legitimate interests of the native Arab population of Palestine.”[30]

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_J._Toynbee

        Time for a Toynbee revival?

        And while I’m a great fan of Hudson’s writing on this blog and would humbly decline any challenge to his scholarship, I do wonder about the notion of framing all of human history in terms of money. Surely creditors only have power as long as they have force to back it up. The book’s thesis sounds a tad reductionist..

        Reply
        1. EoH

          Pierre Bourdieu would probably say that the societal relations at issue are those of power. Debtor-Creditor relations, using “money” as shorthand, are an expression of them. Power and its absence define the rights and obligations of debtor and creditor – and the manner in which they can be modified.

          Hudson seems to be saying that his historical research tells him that the political leaders in the ancient societies he has studied reserved to themselves the power periodically to alter those relationships.

          The purpose of doing so was as to keep society functioning by meeting demands that conflict with and at times are superior to the normal need to repay debt. Periodic debt forgiveness is equally normal, in the manner that medieval farmers let their land lie fallow so as to bear fruit another year.

          Rootless, unrestrained capital would plant the same ground every year, exhaust it, and move on, leaving behind the detritus of its “creative destruction”. For Hudson, a political ruler with nowhere to move on to, feels compelled instead to play steward.

          Under present day neoliberalism, most political leaders have out a less ambitious role for themselves: they ask permission from capital to blow wind. Restraining it from unsustainably harvesting every available resource – cotton, coal, fish, data, the earth – is not within their normal purview.

          Reply
      2. skippy

        I feel like I’m out of phase here after bringing up Toynbee in the early years of NC or is it just a flash back thingy…. society as a journey vs. a harbor….

        Reply
  31. Nanci

    GoodgreifGerty

    I am reminded of this from the Merchant of Venice.

    “Go with me to a notary, seal me there
    Your single bond; and, in a merry sport,
    If you repay me not on such a day,
    In such a place, such sum or sums as are
    Express’d in the condition, let the forfeit
    Be nominated for an equal pound
    Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
    In what part of your body pleaseth me”.

    Reply
    1. John Siman

      Yes!! And do you know Horace’s second epode, about Alfius the fænerator = usurer?
      Beatus ille qui procul negotiis,
      ut prisca gens mortalium,
      paterna rura bobus exercet suis,
      solutus omni fænore….
      Hudson’s work totally illuminates this poem!

      Reply
  32. H. Alexander Ivey

    To answer the eternal question, often posed by concerned bankers or their supporters:

    — Wouldn’t debt cancellations just take away any incentive for people to pay back loans and, thus, take away the incentive to give loans?

    While Dr. Hudson’s answer is technically correct, it misses the mark. The question is filled with incorrect assumptions and moral certainty. A better answer would be:
    1st. If the bank is stupid enough to make the loan, they are stupid enough to lose it. The bank must take the consequence of making a un-payable loan.
    And
    2nd. The bank has far more resources to know if the loan is repayable than the person getting the loan. Since the bank ‘knows’ more, it should take on more responsibility for making the loan than the person getting the loan. And so, back to reason #1 above, stupid bank loses stupid loan.

    Now when said banker or supporter starts to sputter about how you don’t understand how the world works, or how people must do the right thing, etc., reply back with: “Banks’ don’t give loans, they sell loans.” The price the borrower pays for the loan is both the face value of the amount borrowed plus the price the bank sets on ‘selling’ that amount of money (the interest rate of the loan). And that is if the borrower pays back the loan with money. Otherwise the borrower pays back with the collateral used as a Plan B for the lender. So banks ‘give’ (sell) loans if and only if:
    1. they can make money loaning to that person (or business, or country). ‘Make money’ means either getting the collateral for the loan or getting the purchase price (cost of the loan) in full.
    OR
    2. they are ‘requested’ by a higher authority to make the loan. A government or even just a higher up boss could ‘request’ that the loan officer approve the loan, regardless of the borrower’s ability to repay. This accounts for the fraud and bribery too often seen with the banker’s side of debt.

    And while I’m at it, further reasons why debt should be retired and not paid back: The consequence to society of a bank not getting repaid is much less than the consequence to society of the individual being forced to pay back a loan that the individual can not reasonably do. The society is not that much troubled by a bank losing ‘its’ money than its members being forced into debt slavery via loan foreclosures and such. Second, the bank should not get more money or services back from a defaulted loan than what the loan itself was worth. Society is poorly served when the bank (and its officers) get rich by foreclosing on loans.

    Lastly, and deserving its own paragraph: Yes, the borrower usually has a gun to their head—want a good job? get a college degree or training, which needs a school loan to get; want groceries on the table (but not earning enough wages to cover it)? get a payday loan; want to make your small company’s payroll (but did not see a downturn in the economy)? get a bridging loan, etc., etc., etc.

    The central question about debt, loans, and contracts is: Is a contract fair if it is ‘your brains or your signature on the paper’? In case mafia bosses are reading this, the answer is NO, it’s not. And unfair contracts are not or should not be legally enforceable. The sanctity of the contract rests on a foundation of is it a ‘free and even’ entered into agreement.

    Reply
  33. Trutheludes

    What could have facilitated debt jubilees in ancient societies was the fact that the new rulers which overthrew the old as a result of frequent wars, found it convenient to eliminate the former propertied classes to win over the support of the indebted and enslaved commoners. ‘Wiping the slate clean’ could have been just a measure to win political legitimacy.

    Reply
  34. Jordan from Croatia

    Finally someone dared to say it.
    The debt economy is sustainable only by debt forgivness: Personal bankruptcy as in USA (prior to 2005) Or as corporations all around the world enjoy it. Remember how many times did Trump’s corporations went bankrupt?
    There is a mass debt forgiveness that is not so obvious yet it is very effective to keep debt economies alive and well. Moderate and higher inflation is a form of creeping debt forgivness en mass. The fixed interest rates play a major role in having inflation forming a slow but sure debt forgiveness.
    Do you wonder why Ben Bernanke called for higher inflation in the midst of the GFC? Because the moderate inflation is a crucial part of debt forgiveness that debt economy has to have in order to function properly.

    Jesus only shortened the Moses’ orders on what to do with poverty in Deutoronomy 15. Second part of Lord’s Prayer is a shorter version of Moses’ orders on Debt Jubilee. Even then they knew the importance of Debt forgiveness and especially since rates were 20% all till recently.
    Today, with lower rates and inflation the need is lesser but personal bankruptcy is an imediate help to debtors.
    Since banks create money as issuing a loan and destroy money as loan is repaid (and only interest stay as bank’s profit) it is very usefull for a bank to have debt forgiven even when loan is secured. Banks do not have to sell the property underpriced (as they usually do) to get rid of liability that unperforming loan creates. There are expenses in selling property especially under the price.
    It is much better if the bankruptcy judge allows banks to erase their and debtors liabilities without money being returned. It saves the banks and debtors.

    This is all easy to learn when you know that banks create money when issuing a loan and then destroy the money as the loan is returned. that is a Law.
    Banks create money and then destroy it.
    By forgiving the debts everyone benefits.
    Same goes with moderate inflation 4-20%, everyone benefits.

    Reply
        1. Steve H.

          “It was normal for new rulers to proclaim these edicts upon taking the throne, in the aftermath of war, or upon the building or renovating a temple.”

          Reply
  35. Trutheludes

    A possible case of debt jubilee in our times comes to mind. In India opposition Congress Party has promised that if it wins general elections in 2019 it will work to forgive the debts of poor farmers. Here the motivation of this party might not be so much as to relieve the distress of destitute farmers, many of whom are driven to suicides, as to get votes and regain power.
    Many a time benefits accrue to disadvantaged groups as an inadvertent collateral effect of conflict of contending power groups and not as a deliberate benign act.

    Reply
    1. ObjectiveFunction

      I guess the question is whether the local landsharks who hold these debts will observe the edicts of New Delhi….

      Speaking of which, it would be interesting to see whether and under what conditions the jubilee model occurred in the Oriental civilizations, all of which were all too well acquainted with rural usury. I know the Chinese empires had state granaries as insurance against famines.

      But I also recall an 1950s book “Slaves of the Cool Mountains”. This discussed the subcaste of non-Han families in the remote mountain valleys of Yunnan Province who had been in multigenerational debt bondage and whose unusual economic order proved especially challenging for the Communist authorities to reinvent. (I also think these areas suffered horribly in the later famines)

      Also, the Parsees (Farsis) of Mumbai were bankers to the Mughals for centuries, but I suppose that would be state banking, not rural usury.

      Reply
  36. Trutheludes

    What distinguishes modern times from the ancient is that propertied classes in many developed societies have strengthened their political stranglehold, which increases by the day thanks to new artificial intelligence technologies, so much so that it appears inconceivable how they could be displaced at all.
    In ancient societies most rulers were frequently changing military adventurers and conquerors and there was still some disconnect between power and wealth; but in modern there has developed a close convergence between the two. In ancient societies political power was arbiter of wealth but in modern, developed ones at least, wealth has become arbiter of power.
    Wealthy are the creditors who will not let debtors of the hook easily. I am afraid, we could be moving to a dystopian future a la Aldous Huxley and George Orwell where rulers and asset owners would form a same class, the ruled being little better than serfs and plebeians.
    Look around. Do we not see the incipient signs already?

    Reply
  37. A Richter

    Sorry, I dont get it. Very much with the critical reviewer on this one:
    “Wouldn’t debt cancellations just take away any incentive for people to pay back loans and, thus, take away the incentive to give loans?”
    Hudson’s response:

    — Creditors argue that if you forgive debts for a class of debtors – say, student loans – that there will be some “free riders,” and that people will expect to have bad loans written off. This is called a “moral hazard,” as if debt writedowns are a hazard to the economy, and hence, immoral.

    I bed to disagree. The argument is not a moral one. It is an economic one. If I expect my dept to be written off, i have very little incentive to pay it back. As a creditor on the other hand I would not care if i get my money from the state or the debtor. However if the state if going to give money to people anyway we could arrange that by direct transfers and spare us the trouble of calling it “debt”, which we all know is not really debt, but just a temporary pseudo-debt that will eventually be covered by the state.

    I understand Hudson implies that the harm from taking away incentives to pay back debt is lesser than the harm from dependencies arising from debt in general. I would like a clarification for which kind of loans this actually holds true and would like to remind the insame rise of wealth, well-being, long-livety of humanity since the rise of organised credit/ loan systems.

    Reply
    1. Jeff

      You may expect there to be a window between the moment where your debt is due, and where a debt jubilee could occur. So if you don’t pay back your debt, bad things may happen: your kids are incited to pay on your behalf, your house is sold to pay back the debt, your paycheck is garnished … whatever is in the law, and you should end up paying back after all.
      But if you have no kids, no house and no paycheck big enough to be garnished, no debt is paid back, because no debt can be paid back, and on the day of the jubilee, you walk out clean, but still with no money, no house and no significant paycheck.
      What does change, however, is the risk factor for the creditor: debts that cannot be paid back, will not be paid back: not by the debtor and not by the state.
      So the bank should think twice before handing out a student loan for a very expensive university where nobody finds work because they offer useless degrees.
      As far as I can see, a jubilee would apply to any kind of debt.

      Reply
  38. ElViejito

    Sorry about coming in late to this discussion. I want to comment on the earlier mention of “Original Sin.” I encourage those interested to read “Adam, Eve and the Serpent” by Elaine Pagels. One of her theses is that Original Sin was a doctrine created by Augustine of Hippo and that it fit very neatly with a drive to convince the Roman rulers to make Christianity the official religion. After all, if humans are fundamentally flawed, they need a strong ruler to tamp down the chaos. As one poster noted, Original Sin is not found in Judaism, and if it dated from the story of Adam and Eve, you would expect it to be.

    Reply
  39. readerOfTeaLeaves

    Thrilled to see this post.
    Any idea about timelines for an eBook version in US…?

    My local bookseller is not able to get it 8\

    Reply
    1. Michael Hudson

      It’s on Amazon.
      There will be an e-book at some point — maybe a month

      I think many of you discussions miss the point that this is a history of Bronze Age finance and the Babylonian influence on the Bible.

      Reply
      1. readerOfTeaLeaves

        Actually, in my case, the Bronze Age angle is of particular interest.

        I don’t mean to offer too much information, but hope that someone can perhaps pass this info along to Dr. Hudson’s publisher…. it’s not the shipping that plagues me if I have to order via Amazon, it’s the font sizes and the narrow kerning of printed pages 8^p

        My eyes vastly prefer a screen reader to enlarge font sizes — despite my relative youth 8^\
        Also, tablets and phones are vastly more portable.

        Calls to my two favorite Seattle-area bookshops today went something like, “Wow, that book looks interesting…. We’re going to have trouble ordering from that small publisher… It would be really hard for us to get you a copy — why don’t you just order it from Amazon…?”

        In my case, ordering from Amazon would take about 3 weeks for delivery, which is hardly the end of the world… however, if I can’t get it on a screen reader, then I would not be able to take advantage of bumping up the font size >8^\

        I hope that your publisher will be able to release the eBook version sooner, rather than later. They might also contact iBooks to get a notification in Apple’s system so that people could at least see the book will be available there soon — that way, iBooks can automatically let me pre-purchase the book, and their system will download it and notify me when the content is available.

        FWIW, I have two of your books via iBooks (The Monsters, Killing the Host). Very simple to carry around that way. Also, ginormous font size…

        Reply
        1. PhilJoMar

          Sorry to be Mr Pedant but The Monster is not by this Michael Hudson but a Dubya who’s more of a journalist if memory serves.
          That being said, The Monster is a jaw-dropping work and will always pay re-reading after each financial crash.
          The new MH tome drops on my doormat on Monday…all decks are being cleared as we speak for the time that will be known to history as the Great Seclusion of 2018…

          Reply
          1. readerOfTeaLeaves

            Okay… feeling silly, and thanks for the correction!
            I busted through “The Monsters” some years back and must have mixed up authorship in my memory archives. Yipes!

            I was thinking that if mine arrived mid-Dec, it would be a grand northern latitude time of year for an invigorating read. But it’s all about font size… (also, backlighting!)

            Thanks again, and congrats on clearing your decks ;-)

            Reply
      2. skippy

        Umm… Sellers soft shoe at the door after spilling the rice….

        After all the wrangling with the beard years ago_cough_ Babylonian debates, not to mention the early refugees exodus out of the Sumerian collapse, only to experience a population boom in near historical time, leading to the first city states in the region and all the baggage that goes with it – evolution of everything.

        Only to experience waves of external forces until it becomes de-facto state religion.

        But yeah…. some tell us human history is only 5000 years old or there about, never mind the ad hoc assemblage as it drifts through history… and the propensity of some to do a Jefferson’s bible treatment to forward personal biases – usual suspects IMO.

        Reply
  40. Bob Hertz

    At certain points in social history, debt resistance becomes quite literally a matter of war.

    Lenders will kill you if that is part of getting their money back.

    Debtors may have to kill the lenders to get out of debt.

    It is not always a heroic process.

    One of the most strident goals of the Nazi Party was to take over the Allied governments that were imposing reparations.

    For more perspective, see my article on “Ending the Evil of Student Loans” on this blog a couple of months ago.

    Reply
  41. Craig Dempsey

    The question of the relationship between the oligarchs of ancient Rome and the kings who forgave debts in even more ancient bronze age civilizations can be seen in high relief in the life of Julius Caesar. The Roman Senate was a den of very rich thieves, while Caesar was a charismatic leader popular with the common people. He was hated by the Roman elite because he wanted to make the Roman state work by supporting the common people, while the Senate wanted to be free to enrich themselves at the expense of both the people and the state. Caesar toyed with the issue of becoming a king, leading the Senators to hate and fear him, and the people to cheer him. Indeed, his comment on one occasion when the crowd would crown him king finds echo in the gospels, for Caesar said “My name is not King, but Caesar!” During the passion week of Christ, the chief priests cried out “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15) Caesar worked to find land for his retired soldiers so that they could raise the next generation of citizen soldiers. Roman estates progressively decreased the supply of citizen soldiers, and forced increasing reliance on mercenaries.

    If anyone wants to follow up on the life of Caesar, take a look at “Caesar: Politician and Statesman” by Matthias Gelzer or “Julius Caesar” by Phillip Freeman. Freeman ends his book with a report by Thomas Jefferson that Alexander Hamilton told him “The greatest man who ever lived was Julius Caesar.”

    If anyone wants to take the question of Julius Caesar one step further in considering Hudson’s new book, they might want to read “Et tu, Judas? Then Fall Jesus!” by Gary Courtney or “Jesus Was Caesar” by Francesco Carrota. While taking somewhat different paths to their conclusion, both find reasons to conclude that Julius Caesar was the historical Jesus, while the gospels are allegorical retellings of Caesar’s life, set in a Jewish milieu, If so, Christianity began its career in a cauldron of political and religious strife and propaganda, not so different from what we live with now. After all, both died around Passover, and big things happened on the third day!

    Reply
  42. EoH

    It is a truism that Christianity began in a cauldron of political and religious strife. Jews were living in a militarily occupied Palestine, a troublesome peripheral territory in the Roman empire, one that had been assaulted culturally for centuries by the allure of the Hellenistic world and assaulted physically for millenia by competing empires.

    It is common to draw parallels from the surviving accounts of Jesus with the cultures of Greece and Roman (conceding that Rome had a culture other than barbarism). Greek language and culture was the lingua franca of the time.

    Crossan, for one, points out that tales of divine origins and virgin births were common when poet historians sought to explain the earthly power of emperors. What was uncommon was to associate them with the cultural meaning of the life of an itinerant preacher and peasant village Jew.

    Humans understand the new by comparing it with the a parallel from the known. But to conclude that the historical Julius was the historical Jesus confuses the real and the metaphorical.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *